Online video of encounter with endangered seal may lead to fine

Juneau man accused of harassing animal in MySpace images

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HILO, Hawaii - A man who posted an online video that appears to show him harassing an endangered monk seal may be in trouble with the law.

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The 22-year-old man from Juneau who recorded the incident could face a $25,000 fine because of his video titled "This thing wanted a piece of me," conservation officials said. The man who recorded the video is identified only as Chris on the Web site. The case has been turned over to federal authorities for investigation.

The video, put online Aug. 19, shows a furious mother seal making repeated charges at the camera on what scientists believe is a remote stretch of beach on the northern shore of the Big Island.

The animal bares her teeth, lunges and lets out hissing yelps as she appears to chase the camera during the 2½-minute video.

"Harassing a monk seal is bad, but harassing a mom and pup is really bad," said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Oahu. "We need every pup to survive. If she's stressed, the mother may abandon the pup. The pup was only about a week old when this individual did what he did."

Web links

View the video online at oID 16205794.

There are 80 to 120 monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands, with up to 12 new pups born each year.

It is illegal to kill, capture or harass the monk seals under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Environmental officials recommend that people stay at least 150 feet away.

"Luckily this guy took a video of his face, the warning sign that he wasn't paying attention to, and added his e-mail address," Schofield said. "He documented very well what he was doing wrong. If you want to get caught in an investigation by a state or federal agency, do what he did."

Many viewers of the video berated it in comments on the Web page, but negative comments have since been removed.

The video has also been changed so that the man's face and the seal warning sign no longer appear.

"It shows how difficult conservation efforts are at these remote locations," said Jason Trimble, assistant editor of Seawords, a newsletter distributed by the Marine Option Program.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has forwarded the case to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, department spokeswoman Debbie Ward said.

NOAA law enforcement agents didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

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